I recently had a discussion with a Roman Catholic priest regarding the nature of our resurrected bodies. He claimed that in the resurrection we will be bodiless, like the angels. He went on to state that as pure spirits we will not recognize one another.
As a TOB Immersion Course grad, this made no sense to me. After all, are not our bodies created in the image of God? Are we not all created as individuals and do we not retain our identities – in a perfected and glorified form, of course – throughout all eternity? Do we not profess to believe in the resurrection of the body at every Mass?
Of course this priest believes in the resurrection, but he was claiming that the nature of our resurrected bodies would be such that we will not be able to identify family and friends in heaven. He believes that our glorified bodies will essentially be spiritual and will not contain the identifiable characteristics our mortal bodies have. Here is his explanation in an email exchange that followed our discussion:
“When the Church talks of the “SPIRIT” she does not mean MORTAL or material bodies. Spirits are are Formless. The symbol of the Holy Spirit is a dove; but that does not mean that Spirit is a dove. After his death and resurrection, Jesus was in a different FORM that made it easy for him to appear to appear anywhere to his disciples; but hard for them to IDENTFY or RECOGNIZE him until he showed them his scars of the nails or they recognized him at the breaking of the scriptures or when he reminded them what was written in the Scripture about him (Ref. the two disciples to Emmaus). In fact, some of the Apostles who went back to their former life of fishing thought he was a ghost when he suddenly revealed himself to them. “Our resurrection, like his own…” means that those who die in Christ will rise with him and he will GLORIFY OUR MORTAL BODIES like his body which was GLORIFIED by the FATHER. Why? Because Jesus GLORIFIED THE FATHER ON THE CROSS BY DOING THE WILL OF THE FATHER. Therefore those who are baptized in Christ and marked with the sign of faith will have their earthly bodies GLORIFIED if they do the will of GOD. From the Scripture and the teachings of the Magesterium, I only know for sure that three personalities ascended to heaven both body and the soul. Id est, Prophet Elijah, B. V. Mary, and Jesus. Not even the holy Apostles or the saints were given the priviledge of ascension. They when they died they spirits or souls went to heaven but their earthly bodies were buried here own earth. “Remember man, you are ash and unto ash you shall return”. So, if our MORTAL (perishable) bodies are to become unto ash or buried in the soil, how do you say again that “we” shall have our mortal bodies in heaven as they were here on earth?”
My reaction to the question he poses in the last sentence of his explanation is based on what I find in Article 205 of the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
Article 205. What happens to our body and our soul after death?
(Summary of the Catechism paragraphs 992-1004 and 1016-1018)
“After death, which is the separation of the body and the soul, the body becomes corrupt while the soul, which is immortal, goes to meet the judgment of God and awaits its reunion with the body when it will rise transformed at the time of the return of the Lord. How the resurrection of the body will come about exceeds the possibilities of our imagination and understanding.”
As the Catechism teaches, we don’t know HOW the soul will be joined with our transformed bodies, as this knowledge “exceeds the possibilities of our imagination and understanding.” All we know is THAT it is going to happen by the power of the Holy Spirit. Is his argument that Jesus was unrecognizable to his disciples after his resurrection a valid basis for the idea that we will not recognize one another in heaven? Or does this mean that, like the Risen Lord, we will be able to appear differently to others depending on the context of the situation? For example, I may appear one way to my mother and a different way to someone I meet later in life.
I did a quick search and found the following passage from “The Catholic Catechism” written by Fr. John A Hardon, SJ, who I understand was one of the foremost authorities on the Catechism and served as a consultant to Pope John Paul II for the drafting of today’s Catechism. On page 265 he makes his belief absolutely clear that we do retain our identities in heaven: “The common teaching is that while in one sense we shall be drastically changed at the resurrection, we shall nevertheless still be essentially the same persons we were before. In heaven we shall not lose our identity.”
Having provided this background, I thought I’d ask my TOB friends what they understand to be the truth about the nature of our resurrected bodies and ask that you share supporting references from Scripture, the Catechism, or from Pope John Paul II’s “Man and Woman He Created Them.” My initial reaction is that his idea that we will be bodiless, like angels, is bordering on heresy. If his teaching is heretical, I need to know that. If not, I need to understand what I’m not understanding.
Please leave your comments so we can get some good discussion going on this matter. I’d especially like to hear from the priests who have taken the TOB course. God’s blessings to all of you!